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Nuclear powered icebreaker

A nuclear powered icebreaker is a purpose-built ship for use in waters continuously covered with ice. Icebreakers are ships capable of cruising on ice-covered water by breaking through the ice with their strong, heavy, steel bows. Nuclear powered icebreakers are far more powerful than their diesel powered counterparts, and have been constructed by Russia primarily to aid shipping in the frozen Arctic waterways in the north of Siberia.

During the winter, the ice along the northern seaways varies in thickness from 1.2 to 2.0 metres (3.9 to 6.5 feet). The ice in central parts of the Arctic Ocean is on average 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) thick. Nuclear-powered icebreakers can force through this ice at speeds up to 10 knots (19 km/h). In ice-free waters the maximum speed of the nuclear-powered icebreakers is as much as 21 knots (35 km/h).

Nuclear icebreaker “Yamal” on its way to the North Pole, carrying 100 tourists

Uses of nuclear-powered icebreakers

The nuclear ice breakers of the Arktika (Arctic) design are used to force through the ice for the benefit of cargo ships and other vessels along the northern seaway. The northern seaway comprises the eastern part of the Barents Sea, the Petchora Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea and the Eastern Siberia Sea to the Bering Strait. Important ports on the northern seaway are, among others, Dikson, Tiksi, and Pevek.

Two nuclear-powered icebreakers, NS Vaigach and NS Taimyr, have been built for shallow waters and are usually used on the river Yenisei to Dikson, where they break through the ice followed by cargo ships with lumber from Igarka and cargo ships with ore and metals from the Norilsk Company’s port Dudinka. These nuclear powered icebreakers can also be used as fireboats.

The icebreakers have also been used for a number of scientific expeditions in the Arctic. On August 17, 1977, the NS Arktika was the first surface vessel in the world to reach the North Pole. Since 1989, some icebreakers have been used for Arctic tourism cruises.

The nuclear-powered icebreakers Rossia (left) and Sovietskiy Soyuz.

Russian nuclear icebreakers
In all, ten civilian nuclear powered vessels have been built in Russia. Nine of these are icebreakers, and one is a container ship with an ice-breaking bow. All nuclear-powered icebreakers of the NS Arktika design have been built at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The NS Vaigach and NS Taimyr were built at the Helsinki New Shipyard in Finland and then brought to Russia for installation of the reactors and steam propulsion systems.

Russian Nuclear Icebreakers: to the North Pole!

Odyssey in the Arctic with Russian Icebreaker Fleet

The nuclear-powered icebreakers served as a symbol of Soviet technological power for many decades. Today this fleet is used to aid ship navigation in the seas north of Siberia – and for elite tourism, which helps to pay the bills. 

The most powerful of all icebreakers “50 years of Victory” (one of six “Arktika” class) has two nuclear reactors and is capable of reaching North Pole in a couple of days.

Svetlana Bogdanova has recently returned from a very special trip on board of icebreaker “Vaigach” and provided us with these unique pictures. Thanks to her exclusive permission (and collection of photos by seamen of the Murmansk Sea Shipping Company) we can now have a glimpse of what it means to follow along the caravan of ships in the northern seas, led by a colossal nuclear-powered vessel.

Svetlana says: “A nuclear icebreaker almost feels alive, like a huge proud creature with a benevolent and dependable character. See it moving in the dark of night, projecting a powerful light ahead, making the snow sparkle in a misty path, feel it tremble under your feet… Its sheer immensity is inspiring, making one think of heroic exploration of unknown lands, the stuff that kids should be dreaming about”

“Vaigach” in the mist:

The blizzard is getting worse:

Unexpected Rescue:
This truck got in trouble on treacherous ice, so a professional team quickly comes up with a plan:

The journey resumes:

Breaking the way for a caravan of ships:

Arriving into Dixon: a small town of about a thousand people -

Its population lives in the Arctic wasteland, enduring the most extreme climate. A significant part of Dixon has become a ghost town during Soviet years – and a series of ghastly buildings line up to haunt the endless night:

It’s easy to start imagining vampires, but the buildings are long abandoned – though one has to wonder about what looks like a cannon nearby:

Back to the Arctic trail -

Franz Josef Land also has fascinating rock formations:

And mammoth fossils lying around:

A day in the life of Murmansk Sea Shipping Company

This custom-paint job looks appropriately aggressive on an icebreaker:

Business as usual, leading the way (though the towline between ships sometimes breaks, leading to all kinds of emergencies)

Launching the deep sea research vessel (Bathysphere) “MIR-1″:

Encountering some heavy seas:

“Yamal” towing the oil rig:

Land-based oil rigs are usually towed by a chain of tractors:

And so, after breaking the ice trail for so many days:

Finally, a clear way beckons home -

Staying in port for maintenance:

Here are Some of the Giants of the Arctic Fleet:

“Lenin” was the first Russian nuclear icebreaker, built in 1957. It looked imposing, but suffered two nuclear accidents while in operation till 1989, and now is being converted into a museum ship. Another milestone: “Arktika” became the first surface ship ever to reach the North Pole in 1977.

“50 Years of Victory” – is the largest, most powerful icebreaker ever constructed.

This lid covers a nuclear reactor:

Nuclear reactor room:

117 meters in length, the “50 Years of Victory” has TWO nuclear reactors, develops around 500,000 horse power, and its huge steel ice belt 5 meters wide can easily break through ice up to 2.5 meters (9.2 feet) thick. (The “victory” in its name is the Russian people’s victory over the Nazis in 1945)

And by the way, in case you’re thinking that no ice can ever stop such behemoths, let me remind you that the nuclear icebreaker “Soviet Union” was trapped in ice for three
days in 1998 (which is nothing compared to Mother Russia trapped in communism for 70 years)

Here is that “Soviet Union” ship -

Other Nuclear Icebreakers are described:

1 Lenin (nuclear icebreaker)

NS Lenin is a Soviet icebreaker launched in 1957, and is both the world’s first nuclear powered surface ship and the first nuclear powered civilian vessel. Lenin was put into operation in 1959 and officially decommissioned in 1989.

First day cover with postage stamp of Icebreaker “Lenin”

2 Arktika (icebreaker)

The NS Arktika is a nuclear powered icebreaker of the Soviet (now Russian) Arktika class. In service since 1975, she was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole, on August 17, 1977.

The Arktika was retired for several years, but was repaired in the late 1990s. She is operational as of 2007.

On April 9, 2007 a fire broke out on the Arktika. The fire devastated three cabins and knocked out an electricity-distribution panel. The nuclear reactor was not damaged. There were no injuries. The icebreaker was in the Kara Sea when the blaze erupted, and was sent to Murmansk.The ship was officially taken out of service in October 2008

Russian nuclear icebreaker “Arktika”

3 Sevmorput

Sevmorput (russian : ??????????) is a nuclear-powered merchant vessel constructed in the Kerch (Ukraine) at Zaliv plant. It was named for “Sevmorput”, the home base of the Soviet Union’s nuclear fleet dockyard. The name is a shortened form for Severnii Morskoi Put (Northern Sea Passage).

Construction of the vessel was undertaken in 1983, but its launch did not take place until 1988.

It is classified as a Lash-Carrier, hauling lighters and container cargo.

Earlier owned and operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company, Sevmorput was transferred to Rosatom in August 2008. She serves along the Northeast Passage for which she is equipped with an ice-breaking bow.

As of August 2007 Sevmorput is being converted into the world’s first nuclear-powered oil drilling vessel. The conversion is expected to take only 18 months.

Sevmorput is capable of breaking ice up to 1 meter thick (1.2 meters according to this source)

4 Taymyr (nuclear icebreaker)

Taymyr (sometimes spelled Taimyr) is a shallow-draft nuclear powered icebreaker, and the first of four similar vessels. She was built in 1989 for the Soviet Union in Helsinki, at the Finnish shipyard Wartsila, by order of the Murmansk Shipping Co.

The Taymyr was delivered to Russia for the installation of the reactor system. It has a nuclear-turbo-electric reactor giving up to 50,000 hp. This shallow-draft icebreaker is used mainly for clearing rivers, including their mouths and estuaries of ice and opening channels in order to make winter navigation possible.

This icebreaker and its sister ship Vaygach belong to a type known as Taymyr-class River Icebreakers.

The Call sign of Taymyr is UEMM.

5 Vaygach (nuclear icebreaker)

he Vaygach (sometimes spelled Vaigach) is a shallow-draft nuclear powered icebreaker. She was built in 1989 for the Soviet Union in Helsinki, at the Finnish shipyard Wartsila, by order of the Murmansk Shipping Co.

The Vaygach was delivered to Russia for the installation of the reactor system. It has a nuclear-turbo-electric reactor giving up to 50,000 hp. This shallow-draft icebreaker is used mainly for clearing rivers, including their mouths and estuaries of ice and opening channels in order to make winter navigation possible.

This icebreaker and its sister ship Taymyr belong to a type known as Taymyr-class River Icebreakers.

6 Yamal (icebreaker)

The NS Yamal (Russian: ???´?) is a Russian Arktika class nuclear powered icebreaker operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company. It is named after the Yamal Peninsula in Northwest Siberia; the name means End of the Land in the Nenets language.

Laid down in Leningrad in 1986, and launched in October 1992, after the end of communism in Russia, she never filled her designed role of keeping shipping lanes open. She has always carried passengers on arctic excursions. Yamal took an excursion to the North Pole to celebrate the Millennium. Yamal is the 12th surface ship ever to reach the north pole.

7 NS 50 Years Since Victory

NS 50 Years Since Victory or 50 Years Anniversary of Victory (Russian: 50 ??? ??????, transliterated as 50 Let Pobedy) is a Russian Arktika class nuclear powered icebreaker, the largest in the world as of 2007.

Construction on project no. 10521 started on October 4, 1989 at the Baltic Works in Leningrad (currently Saint Petersburg), USSR. Originally the ship was named NS Ural. Work was halted in 1994 for lack of funds, so that the real 50 Years Anniversary of Victory Day in 1995 found the ship in an abandoned state. Construction was restarted in 2003.

On 30 November 2004, a fire broke out in ship. All workers aboard the vessel had to be evacuated while the fire crews battled the fire for some 20 hours before getting it under control. One worker was sent to hospital. There was no threat of radioactive contamination as the nuclear reactor had no fuel inside.

She was finally completed in the beginning of 2007, after the 60th Anniversary. The icebreaker sailed into the Gulf of Finland for two weeks of sea trials on February 1, 2007.

Upon completing sea trials, the icebreaker returned to St-Petersburg Baltic shipyard and started preparations for her maiden voyage to Murmansk. The new ship showed superior characteristics for an icebreaker, such as exceptional maneuverability and a top speed of 21.4 knots (39.6 km/h).

She arrived at her homeport Murmansk on April 11, 2007.